Traveling with kids is not easy. Period. Add in a couple of spectrum-y kiddos and you have yourself an event that makes planning for D-Day look like child’s play. We travelled over Memorial Weekend, with our three kids, to visit my husband, whose ship was part of the New York City Fleet Week Celebration. Since summer time means vacation for most families, I thought I’d share with you some lessons learned and things I’d definitely do differently prior to YOUR family vacation. I had to break this into multiple posts because my list of mistakes and “learning experiences” are so great! So, with that said, this is part one of my essay on our Summer Vacation.
With the addition of special needs children to our family, one of the biggest transitions I have had to make in my parenting style is in preparations and planning. With our neurotypical kiddo, vacations or day-long excursions were no big thing. If I grew a wild hair to go to the children’s museum, we did it. Camping on a day notice – bring it on! We threw stuff in the car, buckled up the kid and we were off for adventure!
Boy, what a difference a couple of years and special needs kiddos make! The idea of spontaneously taking a trip or vacation is enough to have me break out in a cold sweat. Random, unplanned day trip to an amusement park – HA! – I can’t even to a spur of the moment Target run without overturning the applecart.
Take, for example, our recent foray to The Big Apple. The planning and foresight that has gone into this vacation would have made Patton proud. Everything – I mean every single aspect of this trip has been dissected, debated, “looked at” and considered from a sensory, behavioral and autistic point of view (or, rather from the parent of spectrum-y kiddos point of view). From the items packed to our chosen route to times travelled, every single moment has been considered; the packing, choice of hotels and events we attend have all been plotted, planned and picked over.
Packing with special needs kiddos is like preparing to cross the desert. On a camel. Without a map. And when you get to The Camel Depot, you end up getting the lamest camel in the pack. Sigh.
In addition to special blankets and stuffies, we need to bring special pillows. They cannot sleep without these very specific pillows. Trust me. We’ve left them home before. Big mistake. Big.
We prepared for weather extremes regardless of forecast. The boys don’t like air conditioning blowing directly on them, so we need to have sweatshirts and pants available in case they are somehow, someway located directly next to an AC vent. I have hats because Ted can’t stand wind (or noise) and so he always has to have something available to cover his ears if the conditions are too much. It’s either my hands or a hat, and since I have other needs for my hands, a hat it is!
Both of our sons are on medication. Several medications, actually. And many of these meds are controlled substances. That always makes traveling interesting. I have all of the pills that we need to bring, in their original pill bottles, just in case we get stopped or something. I don’t know why, but this always worries me. On retrospect, I should have only taken the number of pills we’d need, plus a couple extra, just in case they get stolen. That will be for next trip, I guess. My options are to either carry these around the city with me and hope I don’t get mugged, or to play hide the meds in the hotel room so housekeeping doesn’t take them.
Our oldest son isn’t potty trained, and is quiet proficient at pissing through EVERYTHING. So, we have standard Pull-Ups, Good Nites, plus rubber pants (for over the Good Nites at bedtime). We have baby butt wipes, and flushable butt wipes.
Often times, Ted, our five year old, gets completely overwhelmed and his sensory gauge hits overload very quickly. Dining out can be hazardous to other diners. Therefore, we have selected hotel rooms with kitchenettes. We also packed food that we know he will eat: cheerios and pbj. Since I was already packing food, I added juice boxes, goldfish and other snackables.
We’ve got paper, crayons, stickers and enough Legos to build an entire city scape. Which, incidentally, “I” am building, not the boys. They couldn’t care less. They just want to watch movies anyway. Or play “Angly Buds”on the iPad.
I selected a much less travelled route that would, hopefully, decrease our time spent in traffic (noise and olfactory considerations); this route is a beautiful, scenic drive that also features numerous rest stops and restaurants for potty breaks (or to change man poop Pull-Ups).
Our hotel room has the kitchenette, like I mentioned. We are also situated at the end of the hallway, pretty close to the stairwell. This way, Ted’s outbursts are less likely to affect other travelers and leave us “homeless.” We have back-to-back rooms, to help further muffle the noise. This is the first time the boys have not been in roll-away cribs. They are together in a double bed and we place chairs on the sides of the beds. This was not ideal. Especially when one boy was supremely agitated and took his frustration out on the other though hitting, punching and gauging. These were nights the melatonin didn’t work its magic. Fun times at midnight.
I had preferred snacks and movies in the car. I found out that having toys in the backseat is just cause for trouble – screaming, throwing, pinching and a driver dodging projectiles. NOT a good idea for my terrible twosome. Also not a good idea: giving them the choice between two movies. The likelihood of them picking the same movie to watch? 0%
Public restrooms are probably the third ring of hell for me, personally. But for the boys – it’s a combination playroom/sensory overload. On one hand there are so many cool things: feminine hygiene disposal boxes (which I have to fight them to not lick. Yes, lick. It’s a miracle my boys haven’t died from some ebola-like disease yet.), all the other ladies using the bathroom, the sounds, the smells…they love that stuff. I am trying not to gag as I type this. They absolutely freak out over the flushers and the hand dryers, though. Ohmygosh – Ted shakes like a leaf and spends a lot of time with his hands over his ears. That’s his automatic reaction, and it can cause big problems. For example, he stands to pee (huge accomplishment!) and that’s so awesome, I can’t even believe it – one less kid to paper the seat for. HOWEVER, if he is standing and peeing when the hand dryer goes on, he drops his wiener and muffles his ears, leaving the “hose” still running. Yeah. It’s fun. And wet. Meanwhile, AJ is trying to crawl under the stalls and chat with the other ladies, asking them if they have to poop. Pretty much every rest stop results in me wanting the floor to swallow me up, I’m so embarrassed. I’ve learned to minimize the auto-flushers with toilet paper, but I can’t do a single thing about the hand dryers. I really think it is time to invest in a pair of good, quality headphones/earmuffs.
Well, Folks, that’s just the fun of getting to the destination. Tomorrow I’ll share all the good stuff about our actual vacation. Did I mention I packed rum in my suitcase?